Friday afternoon, a few of us from the marketing department had ordered in lunch and were sitting around the break room eating while we talked about our plans for the weekend.
“Do you think we’ll work again this weekend?” I asked Lindsey.
“I don’t think so. Josh is going away on that Pre-Cana retreat weekend his fiancée is making him do. And I think Bossman has a hot date Saturday night.”
“City Harvest Gala. A bunch of rich people throw a big party to raise millions for food for the homeless. It’s at some swanky hotel this year, and Chase is being honored. I heard him tell his secretary to book a suite with a fancy name. The last two years he’s gone with models from our ad campaigns. Life must be rough when you’re rich and gorgeous.”
Of course, Chase walked in right at that moment. I looked away but felt his eyes on me as he went to the coffee machine. He’d spent so much time and effort getting me to agree to not date other people—I couldn’t imagine he would already be violating his own terms. But I also couldn’t stop a pang of jealousy from creeping up inside of me.
“Hey, boss,” Lindsey called. “We’re not working this weekend, are we?”
“No. Not this weekend. I have some things I need to take care of.”
“I was sort of hoping we would be. It’s supposed to be nice, and Eddie wants to head down to the Jersey Shore to visit his mother.”
“And that’s not a good thing, I take it?”
“She runs around doting on him like he’s royalty—always makes me feel inadequate.”
Chase smirked. “You could always do some doting of your own to get rid of that feeling.”
“Are you crazy? It took me fifteen years to get the man to lower his expectations. Why would I screw that up now?”
Chase smirked. “What about you, Reese? Plans this weekend?”
Jules had been bugging me to go to some new club for the last month. I had no desire to go. Until that moment. “Girls’ night on Saturday. My friend Jules and I are going to check out Harper’s downtown.”
I caught the slight flex of his jaw, but he answered unaffected. “Sounds like fun.”
“And what about you? Hot date?”
It wasn’t exactly an appropriate question to ask your new boss. But Chase was not a traditional boss anyway. He was connected to his employees and knew what was going on in their lives. So my nosey question didn’t raise any suspicion.
“Just a fundraiser we donate to. I’d prefer to just write the check, but somehow they talk me into showing up every year.”
I smiled. It was completely fake, but no one really knew me well enough to notice. Except Chase. “Well, enjoy your date.” I forked a piece of chicken from my Caesar salad and shoved it into my mouth.
I avoided Chase for the afternoon after that. At one point, he came down the hall toward my office, and I quickly popped into Josh’s so we wouldn’t be alone. Part of me knew I was being silly. Surely tomorrow night wasn’t a real date, and I was building something in my head that didn’t exist. This was exactly the reason I avoided office romance. Work needed to be about work, instead of letting my personal life interfere in places it didn’t belong.
So when Chase showed up at my office door at six o’clock, I was determined to keep things strictly professional.
“Share a meal together Sunday night?”
“I don’t think so. I’m going out clubbing Saturday and you—” I waved my hand as if saying whatever. “—have your date Saturday night. I’m sure we’ll both need Sunday to recover.”
He looked confused by my response. “Is everything okay, Reese?”
“It’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know. You seem like something’s bothering you.”
“Nope,” I answered, fast and curt.
Maybe too curt. Chase studied me with his lips pressed together. He was looking for clues, but I wasn’t giving any.
“I feel like it’s about Saturday night. But I figured you’d never go for a night when you had to wear a gown as our non-date, casual sharing of a meal.”
I cocked my head. “I’m sure you’ll have a better time with a real date anyway.”
His brows gathered again, and then his face transformed with a smug smile. “I wouldn’t exactly call Sam a real date.”
“That’s who I’m taking. Who did you think I was going with?” He moved closer.
“I don’t know.”
“Did you think I was taking a date? After what we’d discussed the other night at dinner?”
“Someone might have mentioned that you usually took a model and were staying overnight at the hotel this weekend.”
“I’m taking Sam. To network. I booked a suite for her and her husband to stay afterward. It was part of the deal I made with her.”
He edged closer again. “You were jealous.”
“I was not.”
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“Because if you’re jealous that means you want to be with me as much as I want to be with you. You like to leave me out there dangling, not knowing what you’re thinking.”
He closed in on me as I sat in my chair. Placing one hand on each armrest, he lowered his face to mine. “I’m glad it’s mutual.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
“Sunday night? Share a meal with me.”
“Lunch. It’s more casual.”
He held my stare, trying to pull off serious, but I saw the corner of his mouth hint at a smile. “Fine. But I’m taking you someplace romantic for lunch.”
I was never into clubbing to begin with, but I really put in the extra effort Saturday night. Jules and I didn’t get to spend much time together, and I missed her and thought if there was ever a time I needed to cut loose, this was is it. Between my change of jobs and ever-growing addiction to thinking about Chase Parker, I needed to feel young and free again.
We bounced around early in the night, dancing at places before they became so packed that it was impossible to do anything but rub up against sweaty people on the dance floor. By the time we arrived at Harper’s, I was beginning to regret wearing five-inch heels. When I saw the line to get in—the one that extended almost a full city block—I decided the little half-empty Irish pub we’d just passed wasn’t looking half bad.
“Look at that line,” I groaned.
Jules grinned and grabbed my hand, pulling me toward the door. “What line?”
A Herculean bouncer wrapped one arm around Jules and lifted her off the ground. “You showed up!”
“How could I resist free drinks and no line?”
“And here I thought you came for me.”
“Maybe a little of that, too.” She bumped her tiny shoulder into his chest. “What time do you get off?”
He looked at his phone. “About an hour.”
Jules remembered me standing next to her. “This is Reese. Reese, this is my little brother’s best friend, Christian.”
“Nice to meet you, Reese.” He nodded to me and turned his attention right back to Jules. “How about you drop the introduction as your little brother’s best friend now?”
“But you are.”
“Been trying to get you to see me as something different the last month.” He leaned down. “In case you hadn’t noticed.”
Jules waved him off, but I could tell there was a reason we were at Harper’s tonight, and it didn’t have anything to do with being able to skip the line. “Any chance you can get us a table? Reese needs to rest her dogs or we won’t make it an hour.”
“You going to have a drink with me when I get off?”
“If you’re buying.”
He chuckled and shook his head. Lifting a walkie-talkie, he called to someone inside and said he had VIPs who needed taking care of. A minute later, a woman who had to be six feet tall without her gargantuan heels came to greet us.
“Jesus,” Jules mumbled.
Christian smiled. “Kiki, this is Jules and Reese. Could you find them some seating on the second floor and hook them up with some drinks for me?”
“Sure thing, sweetie.”
The statuesque hostess led us to the second floor and opened a roped-off reserved table that overlooked a packed dance floor below. “What can I have sent over for you ladies?”
We ordered extra-dirty martinis and looked around in awe. The club was massive, and everything from the velvet seats to the shiny, black granite bars was top of the line.
“I feel like a celebrity,” I said. “And you’re fooling around with your brother’s best friend? How does Kenny feel about that?”
“I’m not fooling around with Christian. Yet. And Kenny doesn’t know.”
“How will that go over?”
“We’re all adults. He can’t tell me who I should go out with.”
I smirked. “So he’s gonna have a shit fit, huh?”
A grin spread across her face. “Pretty much.”
“Give me the backstory.”
“Kenny and Christian have been friends since pee-wee football. When I was thirteen, and Christian was eleven, he was big, but not huge like he is now. One afternoon, I walked in on him changing, and the thing was enormous, even back then. I mean, dangling enormous.”
The waitress brought our drinks. “And what?”
“What’s the rest of the story?”
She shrugged. “That’s it.”
“So you’ve been pining to see his junk again for fifteen years.”
She sipped her drink with a wicked smile. “Pretty much. He stayed in California for a few years after college, then came back for the NYPD.”
“He’s a cop?”
“Yep. I ran into him on the street a few weeks ago, and we started texting. He looks so good in his uniform—the shirt, the pants. I’m totally making him cuff me and play cops and robbers.”
“Good for you. He seems into you—couldn’t keep his eyes off of you even when hot Amazonian woman was standing next to us.”
“What about you? How is that delicious boss of yours?”
I lifted the plastic toothpick from my martini and slipped off an olive using my teeth. “Even more delicious than this olive, and you know how I love my martini condiments.” I sighed. “But…he’s still my boss.”
“I absolutely get the reason you’ve put up the wall at work to separate business and pleasure. Not having one cost you a job you loved. I’d probably do the same thing. But damn…I might consider making an exception for that man.”
“Well, he’s definitely trying to get me to make an exception. Somehow he got me to agree to twice-a-week meal sharing.”
“Meal sharing? Like a date?”
“Nope. Sharing a meal in a non-dating capacity?”
“Let me get this straight…you’re sharing a meal twice a week, alone with him?”
“That’s right. In a non-dating capacity.”
“Which means what? You won’t be fucking at the end of the night?”
I sipped my drink. “Exactly.”
Jules cracked up. “He talked you into this crap?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re dating him and don’t even know it. I might love this man.”
I wasn’t dating him. Was I? We were just sharing a meal twice a week. Getting to know each other. Not seeing other people. And thinking of each other while we took care of ourselves. OMG. I am dating him!
Jules sipped her drink and watched me, amused, as I came around to the same conclusion she’d gotten to in two seconds flat.
“Holy shit. Am I really this big of an idiot?”
“Sweetheart, I know you. You didn’t put up that wall to keep him out. You put it up to watch him break it down to get to you.”
I absolutely needed another drink. Make that a double.
For the next hour and a half, Jules and I took advantage of the free drinks. We were in a fifteen-dollar-martini bar, and I was glad we didn’t have to pay the bill. Sometime after midnight, we’d reached the giggle stage of our inebriation. We were mid-way between sober and slurring, settling nicely into what I liked to call the confessional stage, where everything seemed crystal clear, and sharing it seemed liberating.
Jules’s well-hung bouncer hadn’t yet joined us, so we had frequent visitors offering to buy us drinks or asking us to dance. Two clean-cut guys stopped by our table.
“Can we buy you ladies a drink?” The broader one smiled confidently.
Dimples. Damn. I was pretty sure he didn’t get turned down often.
“Thanks, but our drinks are on the house tonight, and I have a massive crush on my boss.”
One eyebrow perked. “Lucky boss. How about a dance then?”
I looked to Jules.
“Not me,” she said. “I’ve been waiting fifteen years, remember? Christian is going to be off soon.”
Politely, I declined. “No, thanks. Not tonight.”
After they’d walked away, Jules said, “The tall one was hot. Why didn’t you dance with him?”
“What’s the point?” I brought my drink to my lips to sip, only to discover after tilting my head back that my glass was empty.
“Of dancing or of men in general? Because my answers would be pretty different.”
“Of dancing with him. I’m just going to compare.”
Jules gave me a funny smile. “Tell me what you like about Bossman.”
“He’s smart, cocky, hard, but sort of soft at the same time. Does that make sense?” I thought she was distracted looking for Christian when I caught her eyes over my head. “Are you even paying attention to me?”
“I am.” She tossed back the rest of the liquid in her fancy glass. “So what were you saying? You liked his persistence? That it was a turn-on?”
I hadn’t said that, but she wasn’t wrong. “I swear, if he pushed me up against the door of my office, I’d have no willpower. Him being the boss is why I’m keeping away from him, yet his bossiness totally does it for me.”
Jules was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” When she just kept on smiling, I knew. I knew. “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
A warm hand touched my bare shoulder.
I closed my eyes and mumbled to my best friend, “I’m going to kill you.”
She shimmied out of the booth and kissed me on the cheek. “I should check and see if my Hulk is off work yet. Be back in a bit.” She wiggled her fingers in a cute wave. “Hey, Bossman.” Then she disappeared.
Chase didn’t even have the decency to feign modesty. He slipped into the seat next to me, rather than sitting across the table as Jules had been. God, I wanted to smack that cocky, full-of-himself smile off his face. His gorgeous, perfectly chiseled, God, I want to kiss you even more now that I’m drunk face.
“What are you doing here, Chase?”
“Making your dreams come true, apparently.”
I turned, facing him head on for the first time, which was probably a mistake. He was too good-looking for my sober thoughts; alcohol could only make things less bearable. Tonight he wore a tuxedo. Or more properly described, he had on a crisp white shirt unbuttoned at the collar, and a bow tie hung loosely around his neck. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing tanned, toned forearms. He really had great forearms. I was a sucker for forearms. Had I said that already? Even if I had, it warranted repeating.
But the thing that did me in was, surprisingly, his hair. Normally unruly, tonight it was parted dramatically at the side and slicked back. Couple that with his flawless, tan skin, clean-shaven face, and a carved, masculine jawline, and he could have just walked out of The Great Gatsby. It totally threw me off.
“You look…so different.”
“Different bad or different good?”
I couldn’t lie. I’d had too much truth serum. “You look like an old-time movie star, very classically handsome. I like it.”
“I’ll be investing in additional hair gel first thing tomorrow morning.”
A little smile I’d tried to hold back escaped. Chase ran his thumb down my cheek, then traced the corner of my lips.
“Maybe a case, if it brings out that smile,” he added.
“What are you doing here?”
“You said you were coming here the other day.”
I had but… “Shouldn’t you be at the charity event?”
“It’s almost over. Besides, I couldn’t stop thinking about you all night.” His arm was slung casually over the back of the bench seat we shared, and his fingers began to caress the exposed skin of my shoulders. “I wasn’t sure if I should come, and now I’m glad I did.”
“Why is that?”
“You like my persistence. What was that you said? My bossiness turns you on?”
I rolled my eyes. “I need another drink.”
“Yes, let’s both. Triple Peppermint Schnapps?”
Chase flagged down the waitress and ordered us both drinks. Looking around the busy club, he asked, “So do you do this often? Go out clubbing with your friends?”
“Not much anymore. I like to dance, but it’s kind of a meat market.”
His finger stopped tracing. “Is that what you were doing tonight? Shopping for meat?”
“Nope. Just enjoying a night out with my friend.”
“Because if meat is what you’re looking for…”
I smacked his abs playfully, but I could feel how hard his body was underneath his shirt. Note to self, keep your hands at your sides at all times, for your own safety.
“Is this how you meet women? You go stalking at clubs looking all sexy at midnight?”
“Not generally. This is the first time I’ve been inside a club—unless it was for an event I had to attend—in years.”
“Where do you meet women then?”
“That’s specific.” I lifted a brow.
“Okay. Let’s see… The last woman I went out with I met on a flight from California.”
“Was that Bridget?”
“Where did you meet Bridget?”
The waitress brought our drinks, and Chase gulped half his glass.
“Just trying to take the edge off.”
“So…Bridget. What kind of a party?”
“I’d prefer not to talk about other women when I’m sitting here with you.”
“Okay. What would you like to talk about then?”
“Why don’t we start with all the things I thought about doing to you tonight?” His gaze slid down my face and took its time as it appreciated my body in the form-fitting little black dress I wore.
Watching him look at me with all that hunger weakened my resistance.
I swallowed. “Chase…”
He responded by lifting my hand and bringing it to his lips for a gentle kiss. “How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“That’s a shame.”
“Because I’m not a man who takes advantage only because Peppermint Schnapps has relaxed a woman’s uncertainty.”
It was my turn to gulp from my glass. I was feeling lightheaded, and it had nothing to do with the alcohol. “So are you saying that no matter what I say or do, you won’t be sleeping with me tonight””
The heat in his eyes said otherwise. “That’s right.”
I smiled devilishly. “That sounds like a challenge. Dance with me.”